Saturday, 17 September 2016

The new Porridge and Goodnight Sweetheart

I finally got round to watching the new episode of Porridge, having watched Goodnight Sweetheart a week or so ago, just after it was aired. The originals are both favourites of mine, and though the trailers didn't do much for me, there's been enough positive talk about the episodes that I decided to give them a go.

The BBC has produced a bunch of comedy pilots, and although there's some brnad new material, it's the remakes and sequels that are getting people talking. It's always controversial when popular series are revived. I try not to listen too hard to what the public say on these things; after all, Mrs Brown's Boys was just voted best sitcom of the 21st century, which just goes to show how terrible popular opinion can be. There are four revivals in the season so far. Young Hyacinth offers little to interest me; even though I enjoyed Keeping Up Appearances as a kid, it's not something I've ever felt the need to go back to. As for the recast Are You Being Served?... well, that wasn't very in the first place, and just seems embarassing now. So, it was Goodnight Sweetheart and Porridge for me.

I think the sequel route is a wise one to take. It's an easy enough thing to do with GS; after all, it finished a relatively recent seventeen years ago, so all the key players are still with us. As for Porridge, updating it for the 21st century might be trickier, but it's still a better idea than trying to remake the style of the seventies original.

Porridge centres, as always, around Fletch, but this is Nigel Norman Fletcher, grandson of Norman Stanley. Played by current comedy darling Kevin Bishop, he's a cyber-criminal, which is something no one could have dreamed of when the original was made. I can buy Bishop as the grandson of old Fletch; he's got some of his mannerisms down to a tee without ever looking like he's trying to copy Ronnie barker's performance. I can accept them as related. The episode was written by the series' original creators, Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais, and it really does feel like a new episode of the original. Admittedly, not the best episode of the original, but still good fun and with some pretty funny moments. I can see it working as a full series if the Beeb decides to go with it. The only thing I'd change would be removing Mr Meaker, who is just too similar to Mackay and comes across of a poor copy. Still, it's definitely better than Going Straight.

Goodnight Sweetheart was a great series back in the 90s. The update really is obvious - just move it forward in real time on both sides of the timewarp, so that it's now the 60s in the past era. It's cleverer than it might at first seem, because the modern day is far stranger and harder to deal with for Gary than the 60s ever could be. Nicholas Lyndhurst steps easily back into his role as Gary Sparrow, adn all the cast return to their main roles. (Well, the second cast. The series was never really the same after Michelle Holmes and Dervla Kirwan left.) I was dubious about Gary having teenage kids, but both Tim Preston (as Michael, in the past) and Esme Coy (as Ellie, in the present) are pretty great in their roles, and very likeable. Stupid Reg isn't funny, but then, he never was, really.

GS became more sci-fi oriented in its last season, focusing on the time travel aspect more than the relationships side of things. It's not surprising that bringing Gary back to the present involves a classic of time travel fiction - meeting his own father, and his infant self. He's thrown back to his native time in a burst of energy when he holds himself as a baby, which also busts open the timewarp. (We call that the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in Doctor Who.) It's not hilarious, but it's still good fun, and also has plenty of scope for more specials or a full revival.

Now, I need to get round to watching the recreations of comedy episodes lost from archives. I still ahevn't seen "A Stripe for Frazer."

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